One final observation about the story: it’s also a story about us.
It’s easy to focus on the rich man and Lazarus; they are the main characters in the story. But the rich man had five brothers. Why should Jesus mention them? Why highlight that there were five of them?
One theory on the number of the brothers is that by taking care of Lazarus, the rich man would have effectively created a family of seven brothers. Never mind the seven brides (!), symbolically seven was the number of completion: a perfect family. As long as there were six of them, they were one short of perfection.
Whether that is true or not, one thing the five brothers’ presence in the story does is remind us that there are people whose lives have not yet ended and as long as they are alive, they have a chance to repent of the way they have been living. It’s a fair guess that the six were just as unmoved by the plight of the poor as their brother had been. He wants them to be warned so that they do not suffer the same outcome as him. He even argued with Abraham about whether or not they would respond to Abraham when they wouldn’t listen to Moses and the prophets.
The five brothers represent everyone who needs to hear this story and repent.
Don’t forget that the Pharisees were listening and as we have already seen they loved money and refused to believe that their love for it had any negative impact on their relationship with God. The Pharisees certainly knew Moses and the prophets. Had they shut their ears to the warnings of the Old Testament.
And don’t forget about yourself. As you read this story you have an opportunity to evaluate your life in line with how God calls you to handle wealth and in the light of the fact that there will be a day of accountability when it will no longer be possible to change anything.
God has spoken.
The rich man protested that God’s message through Scripture was not as powerful as it would be if Lazarus was to return from the dead. The Bible wasn’t enough; he would like his brothers to have a special visit from someone from beyond the grave.
It is worth applying Abraham’s argument that those who refuse to listen to Scripture will not listen to the special testimony of the once-dead to the current seeming plethora of Christian books where people tell compelling stories of visits they have made to heaven. We ought to be cautious. Jesus makes the point that if people refuse to listen to the voice of Scripture there is no guarantee that they will listen to the someone’s dramatic story of an after-death experience.
Further to this, it is interesting to notice how people responded when another man called Lazarus – a friend of Jesus – was raised from the dead. Some people were convinced and believed in Jesus; others were confirmed in their hostility and opposition. In fact, some of the Jewish leaders started to make plans to kill Lazarus.
Therein lies the awful danger of the hard heart. If you stop listening to what God has spoken through Scripture, there is no guarantee that you will listen even if he deigns to send you a special revelation.
Further still, Jesus himself returned from the dead. Once again, many believed, but some remained stubbornly unconvinced.
For those who choose to live only for wealth, there is a warning. Hell is final and without remedy. They will receive the reward for their greed.
For the Lazaruses, who put their hope in God, there is hope. There will be a day of reversals when their pain will be healed.
In the meantime, the call to you and me is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.